Wal-Mart touts changes, vision at annual meeting

FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas Fri Jun 6, 2008 10:13am EDT

A sign marks the entrance of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Rogers, Arkansas June 5, 2008. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

A sign marks the entrance of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Rogers, Arkansas June 5, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) annual meeting got under way on Friday with a combination of self-congratulations for a year in which the retailer began to get its U.S. sales back on track and a tinge of nostalgia for its founder, Sam Walton.

"We will always be the kind of company that my dad wanted us to be, swimming upstream, doing things a little differently than everyone else," Chairman Robson Walton, son of Wal-Mart's founder, told the crowd.

"When I look at Wal-Mart today I see the same company my dad saw 16 years ago, a company with its best days ahead," Walton said, referring to the day in 1992 when Sam Walton was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and addressed Wal-Mart employees publicly for one of the last times.

Wal-Mart is holding its annual meeting as its back-to-basics strategy is helping the world's largest retailer post sales gains despite the weak U.S. economy.

It is emphasizing its low prices at the same time U.S. shoppers are being squeezed by rising food and fuel prices, a deteriorating housing market and tighter access to credit.

Wal-Mart's shares have risen 26 percent this year through Thursday. On Thursday it said its May sales at U.S. stores opened at least a year rose 3.9 percent, beating the analysts' average estimate of a rise of 1.6 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data. The sales advance also surpassed Wal-Mart's own forecast for sales to be flat to up 2 percent.

Wal-Mart "handsomely" beat all sales estimates in May, Eduardo Castro-Wright, head of Wal-Mart's U.S. business, told the crowd of roughly 16,000 gathered for the shareholders meeting.

"We're winning in the marketplace," he said, telling Wal-Mart employees in the audience that they should be proud of their achievements.

(Editing by Dave Zimmerman)

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